Rutgers Athletics announced that veteran tennis coach Ben Bucca would be stepping down as he is being appointed to a Superior Court judgeship in Middlesex County.
Let that one sink in first: the man who was coaching tennis at Rutgers was a) a lawyer and b) politically connected enough to be considered to be a judge. And now he is.
But back to athletics. The press release on Bucca pointed out that he “helped RU secure 160 dual victories, 10 postseason appearances and guided the program into the prestigious Big Ten Conference in 2015.” After 13 years as head coach, and 10 as an assistant, Bucca was moving on. It wasn’t easy being the tennis coach at Rutgers. Bucca was 0-11 last year in the Big Ten. Considering the state of facilities at Rutgers, I’d say he was lucky to get that.
That’s it for Rutgers Tennis. Six courts. No seating. No indoor practice area. And recall that six courts were eliminated a few years ago for parking....for football. And not football fans.
And that brings me to the point of this post. Bucca has provided his players with as good support as he could and recruited good students; the athletes do very well in the classroom. But they have not been able to compete on the court. Now, Pat Hobbs will be looking for a new coach. In the interim, Hilary Ritchie, who has worked as an assistant with the team for the past six seasons, will serve as acting head coach of the program.
But who do you get to come here? Who turns the losing around?
Would a new coach - even in a non-revenue sport - want to come to Rutgers knowing that the facilities are little more than what you’d find at a run-of-the-mill high school? Knowing that there is not a men’s team to help recruit. Knowing that the salary and budget isn’t comparable to your peers?
Looking at the most recent reported data for the 2014-15 school year, Rutgers finds itself at the bottom of the schools for which we had data. At the bottom for budget and for salary. Of the seven schools looked at, only Rutgers paid its head coach less than $100,000.
And incredibly, Michigan has a women’s tennis budget over $1 million, with three other subject schools over three-quarters of a million. RU just broke $500,000.
Rutgers is comparable in one area: scholarships. The NCAA allows eight scholarships for women’s tennis and Rutgers is on track with that.
It was relatively easy to hire a football coach and a men’s basketball coach. There was a commitment by the University to pay and support the two high profile sports. Finding the right person for a fairly low-profile Olympic sport may be a lot harder.
Back in March, Aaron Breitman posted a story on coaching, specifically what Hobbs was going to need to look at as he assessed coaches. The general consensus was that there are some coaches who have been successful and should be rewarded (e.g. wrestling’s Scott Goodale and women’s soccer’s Mike O’Neill). And with others he should take a weight and see approach, especially if facilities may be holding them back (e.g. EVERYONE). And that brings me to a final note.
The R B1G Build campaign includes a new locker/office facility for lacrosse, soccer, and tennis. No new courts and, if you believe the current renderings, no space for a men’s team. How important would that facility be in attracting a top-notch coach to Rutgers? How important would a completely new court set up/tennis facility be to attracting that coach? And would bringing back men’s tennis help the process along? We’ll see where Hobbs & Co. go with this upcoming hire and how that impacts building. The hire may say a lot about Hobbs’ vision and sense of priorities.